Professor McGraw explains how ensemble-building activities have improved her classes by promoting authentic learning and student participation.  Professor McGraw wants her students to avoid having “Gray members” in the room – that is, people who you know exist, but with whom you have never connected.  Icebreakers and other ensemble-building exercises transform “gray members” into colleagues. 

These activities can:

  • help to set the tone for an active-learning or collaborative course;
  • promote better communication, negotiation, and problem-solving skills;
  • inspire trust, which is especially important for courses that cover difficult or controversial concepts;   
  • facilitate greater collaboration and cooperation throughout the semester;
  • humanize other students, helping to overcome stereotypes and disrupt status hierarchies; and
  • encourage a more positive instructor-student relationship.

Professor McGraw demonstrated three icebreaker games for The Extraordinary Teaching Project, and there are videos for each: 

  • The game “Yes!” is an excellent game for creating trust among other students and for encouraging a good dynamic for group conversation.  Students learn to participate in class while also making space for other class members’ contributions. 
  • The game “I am, I like, I do” helps students to find commonalities that will make them feel less isolated during a class discussion. 
  • The game “Stop!” is a useful game for learning names, and is also a good opportunity for instructors to learn more about the individuals in the class:  Which students feel comfortable taking center stage?  Which students may be less likely to draw attention to themselves even if they have something valuable to add to a conversation?